A tractor sits on a sunny day outside Oneill, NE. (Bill Frakes)

After 30 years of working as an award-winning photographer for Sports Illustrated, Bill Frakes traded basketball courts and football fields for the open ranges and expansive landscape of his native Nebraska. Frakes began sharing photographs of sunbursts cutting through bright blue skies and mighty clouds rolling over red clay rocks via Facebook, and today–along with partner Laura Heald– launches a year’s worth of photographs he has amassed on a Web site called The Nebraska Project. In the excerpt below, Frakes describes for In Sight his work and his lasting love for Nebraska’s natural beauty.

I’ve had the best seat in the house the past 30 years working as a photographer for Sports Illustrated where I am on staff. Being a staff photographer there is fabulous. I was in and out covering sport as news. With a few exceptions it’s quick hits: in for a competition or short feature story and right back out and on to the next thing. As it should be.

This collection of stories–of images–is different. This is home. I’ve photographed here my entire adult life, but not consistently and never with a specific goal other than to just capture moments I enjoyed.

With the 150th anniversary of Nebraska’s statehood rapidly approaching I’ve been wanting to do more, to explore deeper, to explain this place I love to anyone willing to spend some time with my photographs and videos. To do that, I’ve spent much of the last year gathering material, which you can start to see the start of here.

Nebraska. It’s one of my homes. My first, and most likely my last. That big sky. The rugged beauty of the badlands. The fertile topography of the corn belt. The wonder that is the Platte River, water that feeds the corn and wheat fields, and is home to the Crane Migration. It’s the middle of nowhere, and the center of everywhere. 

I’ve been to 138 countries and every U.S. state. Nebraska is the gold standard. There is no better place to make photographs. The light. The diverse topography. The open, friendly people. This place is stunningly beautiful, and powerfully raw. From the plains to the badlands the landscape is varied and rich. The word sublime was invented to define The Sandhills. Underneath it all runs the vast Ogallalla Aquifer which provides water for 20 percent of the corn, wheat and cattle produced in the United States.

This is the place my thoughts turn when I need comfort, or inspiration.

I love showing it off. The slow broad smiles that creep across the faces of my friends when I bring them here. It’s magic.


Clouds pass over Lake Watt on a calm Nebraska day. Mullen, NE (Bill Frakes)

The badlands under a cloudy sky in Toadstool Geologic Park outside Crawford, NE. (Bill Frakes)

Sunset over the Ponca Cemetery. Niobrara, NE. (Bill Frakes)

Chimney Rock. (Bill Frakes)

After a snow storm outside Oneill, NE. (Bill Frakes)

The badlands in the Oglala National Grasslands outside Crawford, NE. (Bill Frakes)

The night sky in Toadstool Geologic Park outside Crawford, NE. (Bill Frakes)

A thunderstorm passes quickly through Lakeside, NE. (Bill Frakes)

The night sky in Oneill, NE. (Bill Frakes)

Cranes fly over Alda, NE. Sandhill cranes migrate annually through Nebraska, resting on their journey north in the calm Platte River. (Bill Frakes)

Fog fills a valley at sunrise in Rose, NE. (Bill Frakes)

Sunset after a thunderstorm in Sioux County. (Bill Frakes)

Electrical Storm passes over Liberty Cove outside Hastings, NE. (Bill Frakes)

Sunset afterglow in Toadstool Geologic Park outside Crawford, NE. (Bill Frakes)

Standing Bear Bridge, where the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers meet. (Bill Frakes)